My friend Sophie’s eyeliner is permanently perfect — because it’s permanent.
“Permanent makeup is a tattoo,” explained Jeanee Lusby, owner of Natural Look of Permanent Cosmetics in La Jolla (866-550-LOOK), “but it isn’t really permanent the way a body artwork tattoo is. Body art uses a carbon-based organic ink. We use an iron oxide pigment that is made to fade, and produces a soft, dusty, natural-looking color. And different procedures last different amounts of time.” For eyebrows, “we offer three techniques. First, a powdered, dusty, pixelated fill-in. Or we can do something with movement, which involves micro-stroking” and resembles individual hairs. “And we can do a combination of both, where I dust in a really light color and then create ‘movement’ with a hand tool. Hairstrokes are delicate; they last six to eight months. But a natural powder fill on the eyebrows can last two years, and a darker fill can last four years. Over time, you get a tonal fade, the color fading to a lighter version of itself.”
Eyeliner, on the other hand, “lasts a little longer, because we are using blacks and browns. We implant color between each eyelash, so that it brings definition to the eye.” What gets done after that depends on “the health of the skin and the skin type. As we get older, the skin gets more of a crepe-y look as it loses elasticity. A slightly smudged eyeliner looks better. I’ll take color and use a shading technique to make it look dusty and a little smudgy. I can also do a color wash where I’ll put in a deep, rich color and then wash in a fashion color like green or purple. And sometimes I have young women who say, ‘I want the wet liner look,’ something with a really crisp line.”
Besides questions of age, said Lusby, “there has to be a harmony between color and skin, so ethnicity is very important. If it’s a fair-skinned, blue-eyed woman who is 50 years old, we use charcoals and not browns around the eyes, because brown has a red base. It makes them look like they have been crying, or have allergies. But if I have a Filipino woman with brown eyes or a Latina with amber eyes, I can use browns, and it looks beautiful.”
During the procedure, Lusby uses “topical anesthetics that desensitize the skin and make it very tolerable. I cannot legally say that it is pain-free because sensitivity varies. But no one has ever left the chair because of pain. They say they feel tingling, scratching, vibrating, or tickling. I do the application in two stages. My first procedure is conservative: I want to have wiggle room to balance and improve the design, and I have to respect the skin. It’s hard to take away, but easy to add. So I don’t overdo it. I lay down a basic design and have you come back in four to six weeks.”
Prices range from $400 to $650, depending on the procedure. “You want someone who has a lot of experience and is committed to it. We do eight cases a day, six days a week. Also make sure people are insured, that they use pre-sterilized single-use needles, and that they use quality products made in the U.S.A.”
Karey Gregerson, owner and cosmetic tattoo artist at Fine Lines Studio in Pacific Beach (619-947-5085) uses SofTap products made from iron oxide and gelatin. “It’s a California company. They have a good consistency, they stay on my tool properly, and they’re easily implanted into the skin. I also like that I can use them to do a smear test on the client’s skin that shows what it will look like once it’s tattooed in and the skin heals.”
Pigment can be applied in three ways, explained Gregerson. “I use only the manual method, called ‘tapping.’ The pigment is ‘tapped’ into the skin with a little ‘scoot and push’ motion. It’s less intrusive than a machine, and it’s very precise. Eyeliner and lip liner done with tapping can last two to five years, while brows will last one to three years.” Hairstroke brows, full eyeliner, and lip liner all cost $500. Hairstroke brows require two sessions.
Gregerson concluded with a word on aftercare. “We ask that you avoid heavy exercise, pools, Jacuzzis, saunas, and the ocean. I put a breathable barrier cream on brows and eyeliner; it stays put for five days of healing. Lips should be kept hydrated with Vaseline for five days.”